While doing some reading during a time of convalescence, I came across this delightful quote in Pastor William Gurnall’s helpful book, The Christian in Complete Armor. Gurnall (1616-1679) pastored in Lavenham of Suffolk (northeast of London) for approximately 35 years.
This wise pastor wrote to the dear flock of God among whom he faithfully ministered:
Thou mayst know thou art elect, as surely by a work of grace in thee, as if thou hadst stood by God’s elbow when he writ thy name in the book of life. (96)
Even though his wording may sound quaint to our ears, let us not dismiss the Biblical teaching that remains true in our day. Genuine Christians can know that they truly are God’s children. The book of First John was written for that purpose. Assurance of salvation seems best understood from two perspectives: objective assurance and subjective assurance.
Objective assurance is what we find written in God’s inspired Word. By faith we tenaciously cling to what is written. There are certain truths that describe all those who are God’s elect. It never changes. It remains just the same today in the 21st century as it was in the 17th century during which Gurnall ministered. This focuses on God, what God says about our unchanging relationship with Him.
Subjective assurance is what we possess in our hearts. This, however, may fluctuate from time to time. We may wrestle with our feelings and imaginations. This subjective assurance tends to focus on Self, how we feel about our relationship with God at this present time. But thankfully, changes in subjective assurance do not change objective assurance. To say it another way, objective assurance must guide our subjective assurance. In other words, what is written must govern what is felt.
To be sure, some wrongfully claim subjective assurance of salvation who have no legitimate claim to objective assurance. These pseudo-brothers should not feel secure before God, but some still make the empty claim.
But there is a legitimate aspect to subjective assurance. Peter reminds us that subjective assurance can at times be based on the appropriate evidence of God’s work in our lives. Peter commands us in his second letter, Therefore brothers, make every effort to demonstrate the validity of your call and election, for while doing these things (1:5-7) you will never stumble. (2nd Peter 1:10)
What grace God grants to His children to know that they have eternal life (1st John 5:13)!